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9 reasons SLS is safe in hair and skin products

20 April 2018

Google 'Sodium Lauryl Sulfate', and you'll find pages of negativity, all undeserved.

Not only is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate safe to use, it's desirable, as anyone who has struggled through a lank hair day will tell you.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is the ingredient that turns a squirt of shampoo or body wash into a smooth lather. This allows the product to cut through oil and residue and leaves your hair and skin feeling beautifully clean.

So, let’s cut through the ill-informed hysteria and get acquainted with the facts.

1. The internet is a rumour mill

Back in 1998, a message quickly spread about the internet, claiming Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in shampoo and toothpaste was behind the rising rate of cancer.

Snopes.com is a website that busts urban myths, and it looked into this one. It found that, in the 1970s, some shampoos were contaminated with small amounts of nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic.

Ethanolamine Lauryl Sulfates were to blame, and manufacturers removed the ingredient from their products.

“Perhaps someone confused Ethanolamine Lauryl Sulfate with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate,” Snopes wrote.

“Or, since the ‘SLS is dangerous’ message has been widely disseminated by sellers of ‘alternative’ or ‘all natural’ products who tout that their wares don’t contain SLS, perhaps someone in the ‘natural products’ business deliberately created the message as a way of drumming up sales.”

2. The experts give it the all-clear

Every day, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and its less common, more expensive cousin Sodium Laureth Sulfate are used millions of times around the world.

In Australia, the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme has publicly stated that the current controls governing the use of this chemical in cosmetic products was adequate.

Other authorities have reached similar conclusions:

  • SLS (and similar compounds) is not listed by the National Drugs and Poisons Committee.
  • SLS is not listed as hazardous by the National Occupational Health & Safety Commission.
  • The US Food and Drug Administration says SLS is safe (Between 1976 and 1983, the FDA received just 18 complaints about irritation caused by SLS shampoos out of an estimated 400 million applications).
  • The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation & Development, the FDA, and the Cosmetics Toiletries & Fragrances Association have all asserted in scientific literature that SLS does not sensitise the skin.
  • An OECD report has concluded that SLS was of no concern to the general public.

3. The claims are taken out of context

The arguments against SLS are built on evidence that has been taken out of context.

For example, the Journal of the American College of Toxicology is frequently quoted as stating that SLS causes eye or skin irritation.

The exact wording of their statement was: “The ingredients have been shown to produce eye and/or skin irritation in some human test subjectsirritation may occur in some users.”

That’s not quite the same thing.

4. Quantity matters

Of course, everything can be toxic if you have too much of it.

Even water.

Consider these surprising facts:

  • Vitamin D in human blood is five times more toxic than nicotine.
  • Sunshine has the same carcinogenic status as alcohol.
  • Potassium chloride is used in both throat lozenges and lethal injections.
  • Vanilla beans contain acetaldehyde, a top-level carcinogen.
  • Rosewood, basil, patchouli, cinnamon and lemon essential oils contain Volatile Organic Compounds, which can cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and damage to the central nervous system.
  • Geraniol, found in the essential oils of rose, palmarosa, citronella, geranium, and lemon, is considered a severe eye and moderate skin irritant.

The takeaway message is that the safety of any ingredient depends on dose and duration.

5. ‘Wash off’ products can’t irritate skin

Workplace Australia classifies a substance as irritating if “after four hours of skin contact, irritation develops”.

Four hours of contact with most substances would prove irritating, including lemon juice, hot tea and red wine. 

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is no different.

6. 'Laurel' is a bay leaf 

The central compound from which SLS was first made was discovered in laurel leaves (think of the laurel wreaths worn by Roman emperors).

The lauryl in Sodium Lauryl Sulfate comes from the laurel leaf, also known as bay leaf. Yes, the sort you add to casseroles for flavour.

7. The 'natural' alternatives clog pores

Simplicité is a natural skin care brand that uses organic and high-quality ingredients in concentrations that nourish skin.

We use premium quality Sodium Laureth Sulfate in our Plant Gel Cleansers, Body Washes and Coastal Banksia and Orange Shampoo because we know it is safe, gentle and effective, even on sensitive skin. 

We won’t use the cheaper, commonly used ‘natural’ alternatives to SLES, such as Decyl Glucoside, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate and Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate.

This is because they are made in a sulphuric acid reaction and neutralised with sodium hydroxide, which reacts with the natural sebum in skin and clogs pores.

Simplicite products work to clear clogged pores and keep them clear - not block them up with the foaming surfactant we use.

Our Sodium Laureth Sulfate is extracted from the flesh of sustainably harvested coconuts.

It comes in seven grades, and naturally, we use the highest.

Simplicité uses premium quality Sodium Laureth Sulphate in our Coastal Banksia and Orange Shampoo
Simplicité uses premium quality Sodium Laureth Sulfate sourced from coconut, not petrochemicals.

7. We only use the very best ingredients

Here at Simplicité, we are passionate about the quality of our herbs and ingredients. They must be nourishing, soothing, antioxidant-rich, healing and protective and come from organically grown plants.

But we are equally passionate about the ingredients we don’t use.

The fact of the matter is, there are hundreds of ingredients you will never see on the labels of our products.

We tell customers to pay attention to the beginning of the list on their skin care labels.

‘If there aren’t a dozen or more nourishing, healing, plant extracts listed,’ we say, ‘then don’t waste your money.’

And we base our claims on science

If you would like to read more about the research around SLS and SLES, here are some resources:

Human and Environmental Toxicity of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): Evidence for Safe Use in Household Cleaning Products

The Dose Makes The Poison

Cancer Myth: Toothpaste, Shampoo, Body Wash and Cancer

Does Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in Shampoo Pose a Cancer Risk?

Final Report of the Amended Safety Assessment of Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Related Salts of Sulfated Ethoxylated Alcohols

What are your thoughts on SLS and SLES?

Please share your comments below.

Comments (1)

Anne on June 04, 2018

Thanks for the interesting information. I have only just started using you plant gel cleanser and loving it so far. But I didn’t realize it had SLS till I looked properly at the label. However so far I’ve found it less drying than the natural cleanser I was previously using. I do find SLS to be irritating on the scalp but I’m now interested in trying your shampoo. Because I was using a cheap supermarket label filled with god knows what else.
Thanks for a great read.

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